For a very long time the advice was consistent and clear; riding a motorcycle in the rain was a very bad idea. The truth is, it was a bad idea for a number of reasons, not the least of which were decreased visibility, and a severe lack of traction, not to mention that it can be quite uncomfortable and cold to ride in wet weather. Innovations in tire technology, bike balance, and rain gear have made wet riding, if not as easy as dry riding, at least not quite as dangerous.
Traction. Recent years have seen true advancement in tires developed for two wheel riding. Unlike car tires, bike tires have particular traction needs; they need to remain pliable. Heat helps with this, but in wet conditions, the pavement is often cooler than would be optimal. Regular “sport touring” tires, however, can provide 90% traction at cooler temperatures. They’re designed for changing street weather conditions. Michelin has just added a feature to their online presence where they invite riders to discuss the pros and cons of Michelin tires. Sites like this, a kind of Amazon review for bike tires, may prove a great resource.
Visibility & Comfort. Innovation in rain gear for all manner of sports has led to great improvement in motorcycle rain suits. Water-resistant nylon, gortex, and even neoprene are showing up in riding gear for wet weather. Many suits are unisex and sport bright color blocking in reds and oranges so you can be easily seen in gray and rainy conditions. There are even some that come with reflective yellow striping like one would see on road workers’ vests, and nearly all include a hood of some sort.
The other part of visibility is the rider’s ability to see in the rain. Steering clear of over-spray, especially on highways, is important, but one of the biggest issues riders face is helmet fogging. Helmet shields fog due to simple thermodynamics. When a rainstorm hits, the barometer drops and so does the exterior temperature. When the air inside the helmet is warmer than the outside air, it’s just like a car windshield, except no defroster is available. What is, however, is the preventative step of using a glass defogger spray on the viewing shield. Glasses wearers should make sure they use it on their lenses as well.
No matter what, though, if the rain is sheeting down and visibility is zero, do the smart thing and pull off the road until the storm subsides. Happy Riding!